Wednesday 24 April 2019

Taking the flight fight to Ryanair

Cathal Giomard stung by O’Leary ‘gutter’ talk

Aviation regulator Cathal Giomard: 'It should be possible to argue
about policy without descending into abuse', a reference to
Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary
Aviation regulator Cathal Giomard: 'It should be possible to argue about policy without descending into abuse', a reference to Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary

Tom McEnaney

Cathal Giomard, the man who regulates Irish aviation, has an Irish Independent article pinned to a board above his desk. The article is about Michael O'Leary having yet another go at the regulator. Your eye is immediately drawn to the sections highlighted in yellow in which O'Leary calls Giomard "a wanker", an invective the Ryanair boss later repeated in an RTE interview.

Giomard used to adopt a stoical attitude but when his nine-year-old daughter asked him "Why does that man hate you?", his philosophical resolve was tested.

He said "It should be possible to argue about policy without descending into abuse." Like most observers Giomard attributes O'Leary's language to his desire for publicity.

"Michael O'Leary's commentary on the regulator's office as well as other bodies and institutions is almost inevitably in abusive language including vulgarity, personal maligning and use of foul language and vocabulary generally. I have immense disagreements with the DAA (Dublin Airport Authority) but they never descend into abuse. It is certainly possible for Ryanair to engage in the same way. Of course they would have to pay a little more for their advertising.

"I will be happy to match or surpass Michael O'Leary word for word as soon as I have a cheque for 25pc of the free publicity it would generate for Ryanair. Otherwise I don't propose to join him in the verbal gutter he inhabits. Let's just keep to the facts. "

The facts are that O'Leary's beefs with Ryanair fall broadly into three categories: slot control at Dublin airport; the development of the airport; and the regulator's role in forcing airlines to pay compensation to passengers whose flights have been delayed or cancelled.

On slot control the regulator decided in April 2005 that runway volumes at Dublin Airport were such that a formal system of controlling the take-off and landing times was needed. Ryanair went to the High Court to prevent the decision going ahead and in July 2006 the High Court annulled the regulator's decision on the basis that he had not carried out a proper assessment. The regulator appealed that decision to the Supreme Court but in the meantime it carried out an assessment and, last February, reintroduced that decision. Ryanair has mounted a fresh High Court challenge.

Giomard said: "Our view is that passenger interest requires runway slot control as a management tool. The runway is too busy to continue with the free-for-all which has been the case in the past where airlines timed flights at will."

Although the slot-control issue has garnered two separate High Court challenges and a Supreme Court appeal it is a minor spat on the side of the real battleground between the litigious airline and the aviation watchdog. That resides at the end of the 41b bus route -- the site for Dublin Airport's Terminal 2.

The DAA says, and the regulator accepts, that the terminal will cost €395m, or €610m if you include Pier E. Ryanair said it was a gold-plated facility which would cost €840m, and launched attempts to have a judicial review. Giomard sees the DAA's investment plan as being a matter for itself. "I didn't see it as the role of the regulator to dictate an investment plan different to the company's investment plan."

Not that Giomard allowed the DAA a clear run. While it did not change the investment plan, it did change the way the costs of that plan could be levied on passengers. By changing the way in which the authority treated the depreciation of the terminal, it forced the DAA to recover costs much more slowly than it had originally planned.

As the battle has shifted from slot control to Dublin Airport, so too is it about to shift again. This time the issue is passenger rights and it is the regulator which is on the offensive. And Ryanair is not the only airline in its sights.

EU legislation (EU/261) introduced in Ireland in 2005 requires all airlines to tell passengers of their rights when a flight is delayed or cancelled, to give them refreshments in many cases and to pay them compensation of up to €600 where a flight is cancelled or delayed.

Ryanair has been particularly trenchant its refusal to pay compensation. In a statement earlier this year it said: "No monetary compensation is due under EU/261 in the case of flight delays".

Yet not only is compensation payable but a soon-to-be-published directive from the EU will deal with many of the excuses used by airlines not to pay compensation.

He may be taking the fight to Ryanair. Giomard says that it will be a gentlemanly affair, but he is expecting more of the language which has upset his daughter. "I think I'll have to wait until he has children old enough to understand this language. Maybe then he'll stop."

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